Invented by physiotherapist Carl Petersen, the Petersen step up was originally designed to help restore proper knee alignment for athletes within the Canadian National Alpine Ski Team.
It aims to get athletes super strong whenever their ‘knee goes over the toes’, which is a position encountered super frequently in virtually every sport, not just skiing!
It’s one of the best VMO bulletproofers I know of and is the toughest of all the reverse step up variations.
Today we’re going to take a closer look at how to perform the Petersen step up properly, its benefits, and a few alternatives.
How To Perform The Petersen Step Up
You’ll need some sort of an elevated surface to perform these on.
A small plyo box or step up box will do the trick nicely.
I’m using my VMO Pro, an adjustable slant board designed specifically for these reverse step ups.
- Start the Petersen step up by bending at the knee so that your working leg’s knee tracks out and over your toes.
- The goal is to push that non-working leg out as far as you can, so that you rock up onto the balls of your feet with that working leg by raising your heel.
- Gently touch the ground with your non-working leg’s heel.
It takes a lot of balance and coordination, and I’d recommend starting out with the Patrick step before progressing to the Petersen step up.
You should feel an immense burn in your VMO when you’re up on your toes because you’ve maxed out ankle dorsiflexion as well as knee flexion.
Petersen Step Up Pointers
- Try to keep your non-working leg’s ankle dorsiflexed throughout the movement.
- Don’t push off the ground with your non-working leg – it should just be a soft pause.
- Maintain tension in the VMO throughout the entire movement.
- Start on your non-dominant side.
- Don’t work through pain.
Petersen Step Up Benefits
This seemingly quite simple movement has some pretty profound benefits…
Massive Carryover To Sports-Specific Movements
Whether you’re a basketballer, volleyballer, sprinter, football player, dancer, or virtually any kind of athlete, you’re probably encountering this ‘knee over toe’ position regularly.
Whenever you jump, land, or sprint, your knee is out past your toes.
If you want to become stronger, more efficient, and more explosive on the court or field, you need to strengthen the knee in this position.
Prevents ACL Injuries
If the knee can’t safely travel forward, it will travel inwards.
So when you land from a jump, for instance, if your knee can’t absorb the landing forces by moving forward (past the toes), it’ll internally rotate, which is the major cause of ACL injuries.
The Petersen step up was originally designed to ensure the knee is able to continue travelling forwards, as opposed to inwards, when alpine skiiers are landing from massive jumps…
Imagine the pressure on your knees when landing from the above jump!
Having bulletproof VMOs is basically the only way you could land jumps like this without absolutely destroying your knees.
Petersen Step Up Progressions
Let’s run through each of the different variations of the Petersen step up you can work your way through…
1. Increase Height
The easiest Petersen step up regression is to begin on a very low platform, around 3″ is a good starting point.
Once you become proficient, you can increase the height of your elevated surface to around 6″.
The higher you go, the tougher it’ll get.
You can also try starting out with the Patrick step, which is basically an easier version of the Petersen step up.
2. Increase Length
You can also make these more difficult my reaching out further in front of you with that off-leg.
If you’re struggling to get much length, remember the cue of shooting your hips forward which I’ve found helps a ton when you’re on the elevated surface.
3. Increase Load
Once you’ve got the hang of that, you can start loading up.
I personally just use kettlebells or dumbbells, but you can work your way up to some serious weight!
At this level, you’ll need extremely good balance and ankle mobility, as well as VMO strength!
Petersen Step Up – Sets & Reps
Anywhere from 8-25 reps is fine for these, depending on how much weight you’re using.
I mostly do them unloaded and shoot for about 20-25 reps and feel as though that’s a solid amount of time under tension for the VMO.
Petersen Step Up: Muscles Worked
When you start doing Petersen step ups, it’ll become abundantly clear which muscle is at work here…
Of course it’s the VMO, or the teardrop muscle of your inner quad.
The Petersen step up, if done correctly, will work the VMO almost exclusively.
Most people will feel a deep burn in their VMO after just 8-15 reps with no added weight.
While your calves and Achilles are doing a bit of work to help stabilize the lower leg during this movement, you’re really only going to feel your VMO working during the Petersen step up.
Petersen Step Up Alternatives
The Petersen step up has a couple kissing cousins which are extremely similar in nature and are also worth experimenting with…
The difference between a Patrick step and a Petersen step up is that in the Patrick variation, you keep your heel flat on the ground at all times.
This is a very natural Petersen regression and a great starting point if you’re brand new to reverse step ups.
Poliquin Step Up
The Poliquin step up replicates the same range of motion as a Petersen step up, only you’re using an elevated heel this time.
Poliquin created this version to help people progress towards the Petersen step up, as it’s considerably easier to perform.
What’s The Verdict?
The Petersen step up is an absolutely essential, foundational movement for anyone looking to bulletproof their knees.
It’s tougher than both the Patrick step and Poliquin step up, but it’s the best reverse step up to be doing regularly once those become easy.
I firmly believe this exercise should be mandatory for basketball players, volleyball players, sprinters, football/soccer players, and virtually any kind of athlete you can think of!
The idea is to become really strong in that ‘knee past toe’ position, and the Petersen step up accomplishes this better than any other movement.